WhatsApp isn’t just a messenger anymore. In past years, it has developed a reputation of an influencer. It’s a social channel that can impact billions with one message. And it has its own advantages as well as disadvantages of being an influencer. Just the fact that over past two years, there have been around two dozens killings in India just because of the violent mobs spurred by the Facebook-owned app.
Notably, there are over 1.5 billion WhatsApp users globally. The disinformation campaigns are not limited to India. Recent reports confirmed that its influence has been around the globe including countries such as Pakistan, Brazil, Mexico, and many others.
Moreover, unlike the false and disruptive social media campaigns on Twitter and Facebook, WhatsApp messages travel privately and encrypted. This leaves the company or any outside expert fewer or no ways to find out where these inflammatory messages start.
Previous Steps by WhatsApp
WhatsApp has taken a step to stop the spread of false information by restricting the forward count to five. A user can forward a message only five times at once. This new global forward restriction came after company tested a cap on message forwarding last year in July. Facebook-owned messaging app restricted forwards to five in India and 20 in other countries last year in July. According to WhatsApp, India is home to the highest message forwards for all formats including texts, photos, and videos.
WhatsApp cleared in a blog post on Monday that after evaluating results of restrictions over the six months period, they found that it “significantly reduced forwarded messages around the world.”
“Starting today, all users on the latest versions of WhatsApp can now forward to only five chats at once, which will help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts,” WhatsApp said. “We’ll continue to listen to user feedback about their experience, and over time, look for new ways of addressing viral content.”
The policy change is the latest effort to defeat misinformation spread around the globe. But how much this can help a messaging app like WhatsApp that runs on end-to-end encryption for all the messages.
Facebook Removing Over 300 Users
Last week, in a similar move, Facebook removed over 300 pages pretending to be independent news sites or hubs. In fact, most of them turned out to be an online Russian network allowing state-owned media of Russia to reach users from all fronts privately.
While Facebook has been actively fighting misinformation since it faced the 2016 US presidential election aftermath, it is hard for WhatsApp to follow the flow of misinformation with a closed infrastructure of the app. WhatsApp said that restricting forwards is their first step to stop the misinformation spread along the platform and security teams involved will take more steps in future to keep it safe and simple.